Claim preclusion not applicable to second application for conditional use permit for frac sand mining

by Gary Taylor

O’Connor v. Buffalo County Board of Adjustment and Glacier Sands, LLC
(Wisconsin Court of Appeals, April 22, 2014)

On January 13, 2012, R&J Rolling Acres (R&J) applied to Buffalo County for a conditional use permit to establish a frac sand mining operation on property zoned Agricultural.  The application identified R&J as the “owner” of the property and Glacier Sands, LLC, as the “developer.” Among the application materials was included a map showing the proposed route trucks would use to travel to and from the property.  R&J asserted the haul route would be “south on [State Highway] 88 to [State Highway] 35,” and that an estimated 80 trucks would leave the property via this route every weekday.  In February 2012 the Buffalo County Board of Adjustment (Board) held a public hearing on the application, which was continued to Marc.  Numerous people spoke up at the hearings about issues related to traffic safety on Highway 88, especially after R&J clarified it expected 126 trucks to leave the site each day instead of 80. At the end of the meeting, the Board voted 2-1 to deny R&J’s application. In its written decision issued March 29, the only reason the Board identified for denying the application was its concern that the large number of trucks leaving the mine site each day would decrease traffic safety on Highway 88. 

R&J did not seek circuit court review of the Board’s decision.  Instead, on March 27, 2012, R&J submitted a second CUP application.  The second application was identical to the first, except that it corrected a misspelled word, changed the proposed number of trucks leaving the site from 80 per day to 126, and proposed to have trucks hauling six days per week instead of five.  After a hearing (continued twice to obtain and digest a traffic study from the Wisconsin DOT), the Board granted the second conditional use permit request subject to 43 conditions. Two conditions were to limit to 105 the number of truck loads laving the site daily, and to prohibit hauling on weekends and holidays.  The Board’s written decision was similar to the earlier written denial, except that the Board explained:

The Wisconsin DOT Northwest Region contracted with AECOM to conduct a “Traffic Safety Impact Assessment” for [Highway 88] during May and June of 2012 in light of the potential increase in truck volume on [Highway 88] from proposed, new non-metallic mine operations in the area.  Representatives of the DOT were present at the hearings/meetings to present the initial as well as updated results of their assessment and answer questions.  Specifically, AECOM addressed crashes and crash rates as well as geometric and operational features pertaining to [Highway 88].  Overall, the [DOT] acknowledges that [Highway 88] may have some substandard features, but believes the road can handle increased traffic volumes.

O’Connor, one of the citizens opposing the permit, filed suit, claiming that the Board erred in two respects:  (1) the Buffalo County zoning ordinance does not allow frac sand mining as a conditional use in the agricultural district; and (2) after the Board denied R&J’s first CUP application, it was prohibited from considering the merits of R&J’s second application. 

Frac sand mining as a conditional use.  The Court of Appeals reviewed the Buffalo County zoning ordinance and found that it allows as a conditional use “[m]anufacturing and processing of natural mineral resources indigenous to Buffalo County incidental to the extraction of sand and gravel and the quarrying of limestone and other rock for aggregate purposes, including the erection of buildings, and the installation of necessary machinery and equipment incidental thereto, but not the storage of cement, asphalt, or road oils or the mixing of concrete or black top or related materials, provided that any county, town, or municipal government or its agent may store or mix such materials when incidental to the improvement of highways or streets.”  O’Connor argued that because frac sand mines do not extract sand “for aggregate purposes,” they are not allowed as conditional uses.  The Board argued that the phrase “for aggregate purposes” referred only to “the quarrying of limestone and other rock,” and therefore “manufacturing and processing of natural mineral resources indigenous to Buffalo County incidental to the extraction of sand and gravel” was allowed.  Finding both interpretations reasonable, the Court deferred to the Board’s interpretation because under prior caselaw the Board’s decision is entitled to a presumption of correctness.

Consideration of second application.  O’Connor asserted that, after the Board denied R&J’s first application, R&J’s “sole remedy … was to commence a certiorari action in the circuit court.”  The Court disagreed.  It noted that a county may enact a rule prohibiting a party whose application to the zoning board has been denied from filing a new application absent a substantial change in circumstances, but Buffalo County has not done so.  Absent such a rule, an individual is free to submit a second conditional use permit application after the first has been denied, as long as he or she is willing to pay a second application fee.  The Court rejected O’Connor’s assertion that the Court’s conclusion places an unfair burden on those opposing the application and creates an uneven playing field.  “Filing successive applications clearly places a significant burden on the  applicant, as well as those opposing the application.  For each additional application, the applicant must pay an additional review fee.  The applicant must spend time preparing a new application and appearing at new hearings before the board of adjustment.  If the board ultimately grants a successive application, the applicant then faces the prospect that opponents will file an action for certiorari review, in which the applicant will likely choose to participate to defend the permit.”

Alternatively, O’Connor relied on the doctrine of claim preclusion.  “Claim preclusion provides that a ‘final judgment on the merits in one action bars parties from relitigating any claim that arises out of the same relevant facts, transactions, or occurrences.The doctrine has three elements:  (1) identity between the parties or their privies in the prior and present suits, (2) prior litigation that resulted in a final judgment on the merits by a court with jurisdiction, and (3) identity of the causes of action in the two suits.”  In questioning whether the doctrine extends beyond judicial judgments, neither O’Connor nor the Court could cite any Wisconsin case holding that a board of adjustment’s unreviewed denial of an application precludes it from considering a subsequent application submitted by the same party.  Indeed, the Court again pointed to the existence of local rules prohibiting successive applications in support of its conclusion that claim preclusion did not bar the Board in this case from considering R&J’s second CUP application.  “If claim preclusion operated to bar zoning boards from considering successive applications, there would be no need for these successive application rules.”

The Court affirmed the Board’s decision to grant the conditional use permit.

 

 

Landowner’s defense in zoning enforcement action barred by issue/claim preclusion

by Gary Taylor

Sharkey v. Dubuque County Zoning Board of Adjustment
(Iowa Court of Appeals, November 24, 2010)

Dennis Sharkey owns two parcels in Dubuque County.  Parcel A is zoned M-1 Industrial and M-2 Heavy Industrial. Parcel B is zoned R-3 Single Family Residential.  The properties, and Mr. Sharkey, have been the subject of numerous disputes since the 1980s.  In 1988 Sharkey entered into a stipulated agreement with the county to resolve a zoning enforcement action.  Under the terms of the agreement Sharkey was “permanently enjoined from conducting or permitting any vehicle salvage operation or storage of any vehicles or junk” on the property.  In 1989 Sharkey was found in contempt of the order.  In 1994 Sharkey was convicted of unlawful storage and disposal of hazardous waste on the property and sentenced to prison.

In March 2007, the Dubuque County zoning administrator sent Sharkey two letters outlining problems with his property. In regard to Parcel A, the letter stated there were semitrailers, scrap metal, wood, appliances, and vehicles being stored outside on the property, in violation of zoning ordinances. In regard to Parcel B, the zoning administrator stated there were boats, junk cars and trucks, scrap metal, tires, and piles of wood being stored outside on the property, in violation of zoning ordinances. The letters also noted no flood plain management permit had been issued for either property.

Sharkey appealed the zoning violations to the Dubuque County Zoning Board of Adjustment, and at a June 5, 2007 hearing the Board determined both properties were being used as illegal junkyards and that the proper flood plain permits had not been obtained.  Sharkey challenged the decision in district court raising several defenses, including that he had a permissible existing nonconforming use and that the definition of “junkyard in the Dubuque County zoning ordinance was impermissibly vague.  The district court found that Sharkey was barred from using these defensed by the legal doctrine of “issue preclusion” – that these issues were decided when Sharkey and the county entered into the 1988 stipulated agreement.  Sharkey appealed to the Court of Appeals.

A party asserting issue preclusion – in this case Dubuque County – must show (1) the issue concluded in the previous action is identical to that in the present action; (2) the issue was raised and litigated in the prior action; (3) the issue was material and relevant to the disposition of the prior action; and (4) the determination of the issue was necessary and essential to the resulting judgment.  The Court of Appeals concluded that issue preclusion did apply.  The issue of whether Sharkey’s property is subject to the Dubuque County Zoning Ordinance, as well as the issue of whether the Flood Plain Management Ordinance applies, was determined in the 1988 action. The district court found the use of the property for auto salvage and the storage of vehicles and junk constituted a public nuisance and was not permitted under the Dubuque County Zoning Ordinance. The court also found Sharkey needed to follow the Dubuque County Flood Plain Management Ordinance.

The Court found that “claim preclusion” applied to Sharkey’s assertion that the term “junkyard” is impermissibly vague.  Claim preclusion involves the following elements: (1) the parties in the two actions were the same; (2) the claim in the second action could have been fully and fairly adjudicated in the prior case; and (3) there was a final judgment on the merits in the prior action.  The Court found that the issue concerning the definition of “junkyard” could have been fully and fairly adjudicated by Sharkey in 1988.

Finding sufficient evidence that Sharkey was impermissibly storing semitrailers, scrap metal, appliances, boats, junk cars and trucks, tires, and piles of wood on property in the M-2 Heavy Industrial District without a special use permit, the Court affirmed the decision of the district court.

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